* Dec exports up 8.9 pct y/y, imports up 13.0 pct y/y
* Exports rise 15.8 percent for full year
* 2017 exports best since 1956 by value - trade ministry
* Sales of memory chips, petrochemical goods post double-digit growth in Dec
* Growth seen slowing in 2018
By Cynthia Kim
SEOUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Soaring global demand for memory chips and petrochemicals helped South Korea’s exports surge 8.9 percent in December, lifting its 2017 shipments to the highest on record in value terms.
Exports for the year as a whole jumped $573.9 billion or 15.8 percent, data showed on Monday, making last year the best since relevant data began to be compiled in 1956.
The government is expecting still-solid but more modest export growth of 4 percent this year. With the economy riding the global trade boom, South Korea’s central bank raised interest rates for the first time in more than six years in November.
“Downside risks for South Korea are the won’s strength, rising interest rates and oil prices. They are the new three risks,” trade minister Paik Un-gyu said in a statement.
A further wild cards will be trade talks with the United States, which is keen to revise a 2012 deal to reduce its trade deficit with South Korea. Talks will begin on Jan. 5.
December’s 8.9 percent expansion slightly underperformed the 10.3 percent growth forecast by economists in a Reuters poll and eased from 9.5 percent in November.
But six of the nation’s major export products, including semiconductors, petrochemical products, computers posted double-digit expansion from a year earlier, even as the month had two fewer working days than in December 2016.
Imports jumped 13 percent December from a year earlier, beating the 12.1 percent expansion seen in the survey and 12.7 percent in the previous month.
South Korea’s stellar export performance comes even as the won’s strong gains have been making its goods more expensive for global consumers.
The won appreciated 13 percent against the U.S. dollar last year, ending 2017 at a 32-month high of 1,074.1.
For the whole of 2017, exports to China jumped 14.2 percent, while those to the United States and European Union expanded 3.2 percent 16 percent, respectively.
Shipments of memory chips jumped 57.4 percent last year, while petrochemical goods grew 31.7 percent.
Imports rose 17.7 percent in 2017, supported by an increase in equipment needed to produce memory chips and display products, the trade ministry said.
Reporting by Cynthia Kim and Dahee Kim; Editing by Kim Coghill